All Action, No Plot

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Spurs 3-1 Villa: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Old Habits

As the minutes worryingly ticked by yesterday, the phrase that sprung to mind was the old French gag, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, which as I understand essentially translates as “It may be a new season, new stadium and we even have new signings dash it, but this nonsense on the pitch is the same as before, what?”

For this was a script that had been rolled out seven or eight times last season, no doubt about it. Oodles of possession, lack of final-third spark, a well-drilled defensive unit from the opposition and concession of a goal faintly ridiculous in its simplicity – all returned like old friends, picking up where they’d left off.

Mercifully, another trait that can be added to the list is the fact that our heroes have developed quite the knack for turning around a deficit pretty late in the day. Whereas once to be trailing as the clock ticked to 80 or so meant a pretty prolonged agony followed by a grumpy mooch home, now players and fans alike exchange knowing nods as if to say “This is comeback territory.”

So not quite the serene start one might have envisaged, but glass-half-full sorts might point out that we’ll be all the better for having navigated the odd bump in the road, and the important thing was probably not to have fallen 3 points behind the usual suspects before the first weekend of the season is out.

2. My Best Mate Jan

Starting at the start, I don’t mind admitting there was a pretty dubious eyebrow raised when Our Glorious Leader’s latest crazy notion was revealed to be the omission from the squad altogether of AANP’s best mate, Jan Vertonghen.

The official party line, that it’s impossible to pick everyone at once, might, I suppose, have an inkling of truth to it – but the whole turn of events leaves one with a rather hollow feeling in the stomach. Given the way of things in recent years, the mind inevitably wanders back to those fallings-out of senior players with Poch, the likes of Toby and Danny Rose, who having had the temerity to blab disapprovingly of life at the Lane were shoved off to the naughty step for the best part of six months and left to think about what they’d done.

With the European transfer window still alive and kicking, and only one year left on Vertonghen’s contract, I don’t mind admitting that I fear the worst.

It’s all quite the surprise, mind. The chap’s own interviews had generally suggested he was as happy as a pig in its own muck, and the rumours emanating from the camp had indicated that he and Kane, along with Lloris, were members of a well-trusted core of senior bods. Who knows where this is going?

3. First Half Struggles – Winks, Lamela etc

As for the game itself, I was actually pretty pleased with the initial joustings. Lucas Moura set a good tone straight from kick-off by dispossessing some poor sap and blasting one goalwards, albeit immediately afterwards undoing the good work by missing a pretty straightforward header, but in general the early omens were promising enough. Passes were fairly slick and there was a good energy amongst the players.

Alas it quickly went squiffy. Traffic through the centre became pretty congested.
While Winks was neat and energetic and efficient, his passing tends to keep possession rather than rip the spine out of the opposition à la Modric or an on-song Eriksen. Winks scavenged, and darted, and did nothing wrong, but ultimately tended to feed the man six yards away, or at best feed the full-backs out wide.

Lamela did what Lamela does, and dwelt on the ball far too long before releasing it, generally giving the air of a man making a bit of a mess of a his big opportunity (albeit he redeemed himself at the death by winning back possession for our crucial second).

Danny Rose had a fair amount of joy on the left, causing some gratifying moments of alarm in the Villa box every time he curled in a cross, and although his attacking play was as effective as his defending was careless, he looked arguably our most threatening option. Not that there was much competition on that front.

4. Kyle Walker-Peter’s: Not One of Nature’s Crossers

Given the threat posed by Rose’s crossing from the left, I found quickly found myself yearning for a Trippier, or Aurier on the right, which I suppose is an indication of just how frustrating things were becoming.

For young Kyle Walker-Peters had plenty of possession out on the right in the first half, and did nothing particularly wrong – but given the number of times he received the thing, I could not help lamenting that it would not have killed the chap to swing in a cross or two.

Instead he dithered, and fretted, and scurried, and generally ended up trying to take on his man –to his credit, usually winning a corner – or laid the ball back to a handily-placed chum. Nothing wrong with that, as it retained possession, but countless opportunities were missed to swing in an early cross and let bedlam ensue. You can lay a sizeable wager on any of Walker, Trippier or Aurier having tried as much.

Various Spurs-supporting chums opined at half-time that KWP was arguably the pick of our mob; I firmly marked him down in the Debit rather than Credit column. Considering how much of our play went through him in the first 45, and the threat posed by Rose’s crossing on the other flank, I thought he was repeatedly missing a fairly obvious trick. In fact, by half-time I was dishing a strong selection of curses in his direction.

Whether by accident or design, the plug was pulled on KWP as an attacking force (I use the term loosely) in the second half. He sat deeper and focused on mopping up defensively – a job he did quite adequately, to his credit – and more senior sorts like Lucas and Sissoko took on the mantle of patrolling the right flank. I suppose this is what life after Trippier wil look like, so we had all better get used to it, but it seems a limitation to KWP’s game.

5. Early Ndombele Observations

An odd sort of start from our much-heralded newbie. In the first half one rather felt for the young bean, for there was a general frustration amongst those around him, as well as a solid couple of blocks of Villa players in front of him, and I got the impression that he was wondering if this were really such a smart career move.

He certainly tried his heart out – perhaps a little too hard at times – and at other times appeared a little off-pace and puffed of cheek. The second coming of Dembele he did not appear to be, for there were few signs of him picking up the ball and breezing past opponents.

Mercifully, his goal provided a pretty handy adrenaline shot. (Am I right in thinking that Dembele also scored on his home debut?) A well-taken strike it was too, for I can speak with some authority when I suggest that it is pretty easy when lining up those shots, with the ball rolling back towards you, to lean back and bloot them into orbit.

Thereafter, confidence coursed through his veins like nobody’s business, and a whole tranche of pretty unnecessary tricks and flicks were unleashed. The chap started to do his best Moussa Sissoko impression, surging forward with the ball, and the wonderful prospect of an unstoppable Ndombele-Sissoko double-act hove briefly into view.

6. Eriksen On Song

The Great Eriksen Debate has proved pretty divisive stuff, and there was no letting up yesterday.

No real doubt about it, the chap’s introduction made a difference yesterday. Where previously there had been a heck of a lot of scratching of heads and shrugging of shoulders and passing of buck, once Eriksen had toddled on everyone basically just gave him the ball and left him to it.

And his outputs were pretty impressive. He picked a handful of clever passes, cunningly threading them in between defenders and into space for chums to run onto, rather than simply to feet, which had proved largely beyond his teammates for the preceding hour.

It was in general a pretty good advert for the young fish’s wares, and goodness knows his agent must have rubbed his hands in glee.

As one of those who has often chided the man, I’m happy to hold up my hands and applaud him for his efforts yesterday. And if he shows that same eagerness to demand the ball and look to create opportunities on a weekly basis I’ll probably plant myself far more firmly in the Pro Eriksen camp.

However, if you pardon my tuppence worth, I remain a tad wary, as I feel like I have seen plenty of games like yesterday’s in which we have needed inspiration but Eriksen has sat back and let proceedings pass him by. Yesterday, for the 15 or minutes in which he played, everything went through him, and this should be the case more regularly, rather than having 89 quiet minutes and one moment of magic. I would prefer we keep him than sell him, but would like to see yesterday’s performance become his norm. Admittedly I would also like us to win the league and revert back to blue socks, but such things occasionally need to be said.

AANP’s book Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon. There’s a follow-up in the offing too, as it happens.

Spurs 2-0 Villa: Five Lilywhite Observations

From the sublime of the markedly, almost scarily professional dismantling of Chelsea, to the pointedly less sublime of an FA Cup 3rd round win against lower league gubbins. This looked every inch the performance of reserves that was advertised in the trailer.

1. First Half Snoozing

The first half was marvellously soporific stuff, as players, fans and the viewing public alike settled in for a gentle Sunday afternoon nap. Naturally enough our first-reserves could not be faulted for effort, but for all their busy scurrying the product tended generally to be little more than a pass to the left, followed by a pass to the right. Even Mike Dean seemed rather uninterested by events on the greenery.

The most notable element of that snoozy opening 45 was the sight on the Villa bench of one Stephen Clemence, a man who once had the pleasure of sharing a nightclub urinal with AANP back in the 90s heyday. It was that sort of half really.

There was a dreadful lack of that neat trickery just outside the penalty area that Messrs Eriksen and Alli have turned into such a dreamy artform. The quick shifting of the orb, and busy off-the-ball buzz, was woefully absent. That Villa fielded literally a back-six did not really help matters, but that was almost the point of the thing, for they were hardly about to rock up to the gates, wave a white flag and politely request to be butchered.

2. Cissoko

Amongst those given a rare chance to flaunt his wares was Cissoko. One moment in the first half rather captured the chap in a microcosm, as he picked up the ball just inside his own half, surged past two or three opponents like some sort of warrior buffalo, then trod on the ball whilst running at full pelt, squirting it onto an opponent whereby it flew straight back off his shin and catapulted fifty yards forward into touch. Not something you or I could have done if we had practised for weeks.

Credit where due however, and the chappie’s day improved a notch or several in the second half. He will probably never be the subtlest bean on the counter, but that head-down/chest-out/limbs-everywhere/charge-right-through-you approach reaped a dividend or two as the game wore on. On a couple of occasions he managed to burst right through the Villa defence like a fist through a paper bag, and while he fluffed his lines after fashioning for himself a one-on-one, he did nifty job of setting up Son for our second.

3. Janssen. Sigh.

It was case of the old plus ca change and whatnot for poor old Janssen. Everything we have seen before, from the plodding attempts to outpace his man, to the well-weighted lay-offs, the look of a man who won’t score if he plays for another thousand years, right through to the early withdrawal. Nothing a seasoned watcher would not have predicted. Poor egg.

4. Alli and a Change in Fortune

Insult duly toddled along and positioned himself next to injury, as Janssen’s replacement, Dele Alli, promptly brought with him a change of tempo and fortunes. Alli offered oodles more movement and creativity on the ball, and the win pretty much took care of itself.

5. Other Semi-Bright Spots

On an underwhelming afternoon, there were a few half-decent performances. N’Koudou as ever looked like a lively sort of pup when he was flung on; young Winks gave another mature and feisty performance; Carter-Vickers at the back did little wrong, albeit without enduring the most testing afternoon.

Frankly, the point of the exercise was probably three-pronged: avoid a replay; avoid injuries/suspensions; win the dashed thing. As such, and with a welcome break for the regulars, this can go down as that most curious of beasts – an eminently forgettable, unqualified success.

Villa 1-2 Spurs: Post Mortem on Kaboul & Capoue

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noted that the best part of 48 hours have elapsed since the curtain came down on events Villa Park, but for that long have I been ruminating on the various ills within our mob, and particularly the rearguard.

Attack

Up in attack, while things can hardly be said to be beetling along in a state of serene success, the general gist of things is just about in credit rather than debit. Chances are at least being made.

Every now and then Chap A finds Chap B, Chap C spins around the back, Chap B slides in Chap C, who neatly pings it back to Chap A, and you sit back and wonder why we lose so many of these dashed games. Admittedly one of the chaps will then hit the ‘keeper rather than the net, but at least we have the beginnings of the right idea.

Defence

At the back however, any good being done by the forwards is being heartily undone, with generous lashings of interest, by a back-four fast becoming a parody of themselves. Kaboul’s head appears to swim like a man trying to make sense of the previous paragraph. It’s all very well looking incredibly mean, imposing and just about The Ultimate Bad-Ass at every break in play, but once the nitty-gritty begins he seems to have taken to closing his eyes, swiping a limb in the loose direction of things and hoping for the best. I fancy it might be time to take the batteries out of the old bean and leave him to collect some dust on a shelf somewhere.

With Kaboul running the show it is little wonder that our back-four as a unit has all the resistance and backbone of a particularly gloomy sandcastle. Sure enough, a Villa side that had not managed a goal since around 1997 were soon rattling shots at us from all angles, and within 15 minutes had their lead.

A Short Grammar Lesson

Referees are disinterested.

Vertonghen, Adebayor and the various other assorted prima donnas, with bags of quality but little passion for the club, are uninterested.

Capoue Watch

You know how it is when you suddenly realise that the chap sitting next to you in the office has an annoying habit of clicking his fingers three times every time his computer-box receives a telegram? Once you are aware of it you cannot stop noticing it, and before you know it you can think of nothing else, until it gets to the point that you either want to thrash his head or your own head against something solid and flat. Well thus do I feel about Capoue.

What does the blighter do? It was something I asked myself a few weeks ago, more as a matter of procedure than due to any particular vendetta, you understand, but several weeks on the question still lingers in the air, and with a nasty whiff to it. So on Sunday I watched him like a leopard, and once again his anonymity was thunderously conspicuous.

In his defence he does occasionally show faint signs of life – a crossfield pass here, a Capital One Cup slalom forward there – but on Sunday it generally seemed that he was content to jog around the place in Ryan Mason’s slipstream, always maintaining a careful 10-yard distance from the ball. When Benteke hammered against the post early on, Capoue could be seen jogging along, in the vicinity but not in the action. When Villa scored their goal, Capoue could be seen jogging along, in the vicinity, but nowhere near the chap who flew in to score. And so on.

Positives

Young Mason continues to charge around with the enthusiasm of a slippery, young whelp, and although his radar went awry in the final 15 his was another fairly encouraging performance. Much has been said of Master Kane, and although the hyperbole has got so far ahead of itself that it has begun to trip on its feet (a piece in the Standard yesterday seemed to be comparing him to Bale) the chap seems to make the right noises. And as mentioned at the top of the programme, when our forwards do click, it really does make the pulse race somewhat.

Red Cards and Whatnot

So going forward we were moderate, at the back we were various shades of awful. Although we created some presentable chances at various points, we hardly looked like controlling the thing until the red card. On which note – Messrs Mason and Vertonghen can consider themselves fairly lucky. As with penalties conceded in recent weeks, rather than moan about harsh decisions the players could simply avoid doing the daft things that give the refs a decision to make.

All told it was no doubt a blessed relief for our glorious leader. The poor old fruit must gaze a little wistfully back at Southampton, where lions lie with lambs and happy rainbows spring up left, right and centre. With each game I see I increasingly feel that we must simply muddle through this season as best we can, then let Pochettino do what he wants with the squad and gauge him properly on 2015/16.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Spurs 3-0 Villa: Final Thoughts on a Forgettable Season

Where was this lickety-split brand of football when we needed it earlier in the season? Throughout the first half, and even at 0-0, the one-touch interplay was slicker than a young bounder rolling into the office in braces and a shiny pair of cufflinks. Admittedly it was against a Villa side that looked suspiciously like it had been plucked from their mob of (rather mischievously entertaining) supporters, but nevertheless. Rollicking stuff. If ever there were an award for The Best 45 Minutes of Football At The Most Pointless Juncture of the Season, our heroes would be amongst the red-hot nominees.

Credit to Tactics Tim, in his valedictory charge, for spying that the opposition were but fan-based doppelgangers and accordingly going with two upfront plus a midfielder instructed to bomb forward and beyond. With Sandro holding fort, and Eriksen and Sig surreptitiously drifting infield towards that fun-filled centre, we had options a-plenty, leaving the various competition-winners entrusted with the Villa shirt for one day with little to do but step aside obligingly and let their ‘keeper face things single-handedly. And then as a particularly cruel additional prank they took a pop at him themselves, for our second. With friends like that, eh?

So tip-top was the build-up play in that first half that even our mishap-riddled full-back pair looked worthy of the epithet “Actual Professional Footballer”, Messrs Rose and Naughton taking time out from their season’s worth of misplaced passes to ping in a couple of wicked crosses and diagonals. Moreover, having spent all season resolutely knocking the ball sideways or backwards, Paulinho suddenly discovered the joys of actually progressing forward, in a manner vaguely akin to a blind man having the veil removed from his eyes, albeit with marginally less emotional impact. The opening goal was marvellously crafted, with the applause at AANP Towers ringing loudest for the cheeky, dinked lay-off provided by sideways merchant himself in the build-up. More was to come from Paulinho moments later, including a slide-rule pass for someone or other to blaze wide, proof indeed that after a full season the lad has finally begun watching and learning from Master Eriksen.

Naturally things tailed off in the second half, a gentlemen’s agreement having been brokered at the interval guaranteeing that all 22 of them they could all gently doze off – and that was that. The season that could not end soon enough has ended, the Sherwood era has (presumably) ground to an angry halt and the glorious Europa journey will be ours once more. Huzzah! If anything I rather suspect that the coming weeks will be a dashed sight more interesting around N17 than those just gone. Eyes peeled, as end of season awards will imminently this way come.

Shameless Plug Alert – Lest ye be feeling bereft of inane witterings and lilywhite marvels already, by all means browse the nearest bookstore for AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, which continues to decorate coffee tables and prop open doors the across the country.

Villa 0-2 Spurs: The Wonders of Off-The-Ball Movement & First-Time Passes

Ah, the first-time pass. Scourge of the ball-watching defender. Slicer of the well-drilled bank of four. And as conspicuously absent from our game-plan for the first half half or so as it was instrumental to operations thereafter.

The Opening Half-Hour: Ponderous

I spent most of those opening 30 minutes wanting to offer my kingdom for a first-time pass. Or some off-the-ball movement. Or any line of attack that was not based around Dawson, Chiriches and Vertonghen rolling square balls to each other (and occasionally back to Lloris to cede possession through the medium of a skyward punt). By goodness it was pedestrian stuff. And not necessarily the fault of the man in possession either, as the lilywhite cup could not have been accurately said to have overflowed with options. In fact, our heroes seemed content to adopt a Subbuteo routine of simply adopting a spot of turf and resolutely sticking to it for most of the first half, and with Villa content to soak up pressure and play for a counter-attack I found myself idly toying with nearby blunt objects with which to potentially bash in my own skull at the frustration of it all.

The goal itself may have been a tad fortuitous, but for a few minutes thereafter, and for most of the second half, life became decidedly more fun, as gaps opened up and we were able to get behind the Villa defence. AVB dashed well needs to refine re-examine that “Breaking the Deadlock” file, because having each man in turn ponderously take two/three/four touches before rolling the thing sideways neither strikes fear into bellies of the other lot, nor puts fire into bellies of our lot, nor has any humdinging effect on the bellies of anyone in the vicinity, which is really the whole point of the game.

The Bonny, Blithe and Gay Second Half

Marvellously however, as mentioned, things perked up after the goal, and moved on apace in the second half (bar the five-minute wobble when Benteke came on and seemed to bellow so loud that he made Daws and Chiriches curl into little balls and cry rather than try marking him). Glory be, our heroes began shifting the ball at pace, with first-time passes and movement and lots of little legs scurrying around, until the chances started to flow. The poor old full-back tasked with sitting on Townsend ran completely out of steam, allowing the young bounder to gallop to the line like it was going out of fashion, and to his credit he put his head down and sprinted for the line as often as he cut inside to let rip.

Amidst all this one ought not to forget to send a sizeable bouquet the way of young Sandro, who spent his afternoon harassing the dickens out of any Villa player who dared to think about starting an attack. Back in the days of yore, a youthful and rather wanton AANP would pass his summer mornings by catching ants and the like, and dropping them into spider webs, just to observe the manic reaction of the spider in galloping across and clambering all over the unfortunate young bean. And thus, like some human-sized two-legged spider, did Sandro snuffle the life out of Villa at every opportunity. Good to have the lad back.

And on to the latest installation of The Great Soldado Debate. The lad certainly knows what to do once inside the area, his goal today taken with aplomb – indeed several plombs. (And bonus points all round for the one-touchery that got him there in the first place.) But beyond that marvellous finish? Admittedly in the second half he put in some yards, making himself available down the right flank and holding up the ball (although it did not seem to occur to any of his chums to fill in the attacking void thereby created and bust a gut to get themselves into the area), but in the first half in particular one struggles to make the case for him having offered a plethora of options, and the Villa centre-backs seemed contented enough. ‘Room for improvement’ is probably the euphemism of choice.

Despite the slightly negative tone of these witterings it is a most contented AANP readying the nib for a spot of shut-eye tonight. All the necessary boxes have been duly ticked, and importantly so given the horrors of last time around. Concerns there be for sure, around that lack of incision as long as affairs remain goalless, but Rome was not built in a day, what?

Villa – Spurs Preview: Chewing Over The Soldado-Defoe Problem

As ever following an international break it feels like the best part of a lifetime since we last convened around these parts, and given the sour – if entirely ludicrous – manner in which we parted, it seems fairly reasonable to speculate that our esteemed leader has spent the intervening eternity knee-deep in cogitation of the highest order. While there was no doubt a generous sprinkling of bad luck about the way we fell behind to West Ham having pummelled them for the best part of an hour, AVB might nevertheless be well advised to solve a couple of the riddles posed therein, and with unfettered alacrity.

Soldado? Defoe? Both? Neither?

It is not exactly a secret of the highest confidentiality that Tottenham Hotspur Version 2013/14 is being set up with the ultimate aim of feeding the boy Soldado. Evidently the various cogs do not yet quite mesh with the seamless efficiency one would want, but once things do fall into place the team will be geared towards him and one imagines he will score goals by the bucketload. Alas, at times it seems the supporting cast have yet to stumble upon the formula that transforms Soldado from the lonely-looking lighthouse he currently resembles to the unstoppable goal machine he threatens to be. The poor blighter has the misfortune to be neither a hulking man-beast of the ilk of Drogba nor the sort to drop deep and go foraging when the going gets tough, a la Rooney, so until the whole team sings from the same hymnsheet – the hymnsheet entitled ‘Let’s All Club Together To Create Dozens Of Chances For Soldado’ – he will presumably continue to lollop along a little forlornly.

Given Soldado’s travails, and the form of Defoe in the minor cups, the rationale behind Defoe’s selection against West Ham was understandable – but fairly ineffective. A different sort of beast, Defoe is likelier to collect the ball fairly deep, run at a defence and shot from range, and although against deep-lying opponents at the Lane this is of limited value, there may be more success away from home and on the counter. I do not particularly subscribe to the view that Defoe only scores against weaker teams (par example, his finish against Man City last season was top-notch, and against a mean old defence) and would be happy enough to see him given a run of games. Frankly however he currently resides in a box clearly marked ‘Impact Sub’, and here he will stay. I do, in my idle moments, wonder whether AVB might be tempted to deploy him today, given his success against Villa in the Carling Cup (or whatever it is now called) a few weeks back, but having fired blanks against West Ham one suspects his chance has passed for now.

Another option might be pairing the two of them. There could hardly be a less likely scenario today – given that we are away from home, the team is absolutely not set up for a front-two and it has not been done before, bar the final fifteen minutes against West Ham – so I get the feeling that should the suggestion be made in the corridors of power at the Lane a couple of burly security chaps would frogmarch me off the premises before I could finish blurting out the suggestion, but if nothing else these two are unlikely to get in each other’s way, and if Jay-Z and Kanye have taught me anything it is that one never really know what harmonious – if sample-heavy and profanity-riddled – delights can be produced by two like-minded blighters until they bally well throw caution to the wind and link arms.

Ultimately however, Soldado will probably remain the focal point of things and we will all simply have to remain patient and wait for things to click. Which is fortunate, as we Tottenham folk are particularly renowned for our lashings of patience, what?

Lessons From England

Another mini-rant, while I have the floor – ‘twas interesting to note how England eventually turned dominance into a lead, and then maintained that momentum, even going so far as to score again, particularly against Montenegro. This has hardly been a speciality of our heroes, but given that we typically rack up around 20 shots on goal we dashed well ought to win games by more than the odd goal or two. The national side gave a glimpse of how to keep feet on the accelerator even after eventually taking a lead, and our lot would do well to emulate the approach. As, indeed, they did at Villa Park a few weeks back. (Given the successes of various rivals yesterday, the imperative is even greater.)

Personnel

That our second string could trounce Villa in the Cup, on their own patch, just last month or so bodes fairly well, but this being a new day an entirely different kettle of fish may well await. AVB has sought to integrate the new faces at a gentle pace, sensibly enough, but after the huff and puff of our last outing he may be tempted to let young Lamela off his leash, while Aaron Lennon is apparently now fit again. Young Master Townsend’s international exploits have been well documented, and it struck me that he was ever-so-slightly more prone to pass than shoot while in England colours, which might not be the worst trait to transfer to N17. There have also been murmurs amongst Spurs-supporting chums of mine to give Holtby an opportunity in the hole, particularly if Eriksen is again starved of space. Here at AANP Towers the greater concern is that Dawson may again be given the run-around – Kaboul’s return to full fitness cannot come soon enough. However, when all is said and done, this still ought to be another three points for the collection.

Villa 0-4 Spurs: Blessed Relief, Following the World Record First Half

I suspect few other teams could labour quite so much en route to a 4-0 win as our lot did in what will go down in history as The First Half of A Thousand Corners, but by the end it was a certified cakewalk, and for eventually carpeing the diem with such aplomb our heroes deserve all sorts of credit and an extra yuletide tipple.

Men Against Boys

Last time I checked Villa had plenty chaps old enough to know how to handle a razor – the likes of Dunne and Melberg (admittedly the latter was not one with too great a penchant for the razor – and jolly impressive he looked for it too) but it seems the current Villa policy is to raid the nearest primary school nativity play cast-list and hope for the best. Consequently some sort of world record was set, as for the first 43 minutes the ball did not cross halfway, only three Villa players actually touched the ball and at one point Lloris leaned up against a goal post and fell asleep. A tough lesson for the assorted eight year-olds in claret and blue, yet they survived to half-time unscathed. Indeed, the first half was one we have viewed aghast a thousand times at the Lane, as unscrupulous visitors arrange an eight-man defence and open their Alamo Do-It-Yourself handbook.

Handily enough, the much-needed Christmas miracle turned out to be Villa hoisting themselves by their own petard, their gamble of actually trying to come out and attack in the second half neatly backfiring as they consequently sacrificed the eight-man defence that had done such a sterling job in the opening 45.

No doubt about it, life become a jolly sight easier once Villa left gaps at the back and our heroes duly cut them to ribbons, with Bale rather conspicuously abandoning his flank and bludgeoning his way straight down the centre.

Subtlety in the Centre (or Lack Thereof)

Back to that first half though, if I may, and the lack of lock-picking ingenuity down the centre. I certainly would not utter a word of dissent to the faces of either Sandro or Dembele, for the pair of them are like genetically-engineered man-beasts, ripped into shape thorugh the regimented approach undertaken by Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. Which is all well and good for snapping back the neck of an Italian stallion with a single punch under the imposing gaze of Brigitte Nielsen, but perhaps lacking the requisite subtlety for the dissection of an eight-man defence. Instead, naturally enough, the first half drill was to set Bale off on a left-wing gallop. ‘Tis a problem that has bedevilled us for several years now, and I’ll be darned if I see a solution in the offing.

Pardon the digression. The second half, by contrast, was oodles of fun, as the schoolboys abandoned the very notion of ‘formation’ and instead ran around in little circles and bumped into each other, while our heroes fizzed neat little one-twos forward and backward until we were four up and away over the hills. Particular credit is due to young Master Naughton for an absolute dream of a first-time weighted pass into Defoe for the opener (who knew the boy had that in him?). Elsewhere on the pitch Monsieur Lloris enjoyed one of the more straightforward clean sheets of his career, Vertonghen gave a glimpse of what a beautiful future might look like when he steps forward to intercept from centre-back, and somebody somewhere deserves a rasping thump on the back in recognition of the masterstroke that was kitting out our heroes in navy blue shorts.

Fours points represents an adequate haul so far for the yuletide foursome, and fourth place satisfactory at the halfway stage of the season. Downhill all the way now.

Villa – Spurs Preview: The Only Thing Worse Than Losing 8-0?

A rather queer bucket of nuts, the Christmas fixture list. Umpteen fixtures crammed into about a week, and before you’ve separated your gin-based aperitif from your post-dessert port you find yourself rubbing shoulders with Swansea and West Brom in a mediocre scrambling for Europa places, while Chelski disappear into the distance ensconced in third, with l’Arse hot on their heels. Heavens above, don’t we know that particular feeling a little too well? The run of four winnable festive fixtures got off to an inevitably underwhelming start, and we really need at least two wins from the next three. (Well, not strictly true – I suppose we could lose all of these festive fixtures and then win every ruddy game remaining, and there were would be few complaints – but you get the gist: these three Christmas games are made for winning.)

If there is anything worse than losing 8-0 it is presumably losing to a team that has itself just lost 8-0, and the pessimists amongst us would wager that this game has ‘Villa bounce back’ etched all over it. Never mind the three points – imagine the ignominy. Villa took just about every opportunity to let Chelski score the other day, but while they will presumably have had the basics of ‘For’ and ‘Against’ drummed into them by the great and the good of Brummie-land, but one would expect Bale, Defoe et al be capable of leading them a sufficiently merry dance, particularly if they show any hint of ambition on their own turf, and thereby provide our lot with that most gratefully-received yuletide gift: space into which to gallop on the counter.

‘Tis the season for a strained hamstring or two (with Aaron Lennon the AANP hot tip to start feeling the back of his leggings around the half mark), and I confess to being rather curious about the extent to which AVB believes in squad rotation at this juncture, particularly given his insistence in going all guns blazing at the Europa League. Parker, Sigurdsson and Hudd are presumably fronting the list of rotational candidates, should such a list exist within the Villas-Boas cranium, and one wonders whether young Master Defoe might be told to put his feet up this evening, for one reason and another. Whatever the team selections however, this really ought to be a straightforward three points. (Because that always happens with our lot.)

Idle Musings on Spurs vs Greeks and Villains

Panathanaikos 1 – 1 Spurs

A curious one, that Greek escapade, to the casual observer at least, as our heroes seemed determined to sleepwalk through the entire episode. Possibly considering the whole Europa evening school beneath them following the vanquishing of more illustrious foes in Manchester days earlier, or maybe distracted en masse by that curious ‘Adebayor Power Horse’ advertising hoarding that kept flashing up, our heroes determinedly flicked the dial to ‘General Apathy’ and half-heartedly ambled their way through the motions – into the lead, back to parity and ultimately rather clinging on somewhat, all the while giving the impression that unless the nearest chum gave a sharp prod they might just curl up into a ball and nap for a few minutes on Greek soil.

Viewed with particular interest from the AANP armchair were the performances of Hudd and Daws, neither of whom are exactly the rocks upon which the kingdom of AVB are to be built. Alas, much though I wanted Hudd in particular to outshine all around him and produce a performance to be immortalised on youtube under the title ‘Ruddy Hudd Masterclass in Dreamy Technique’, it was a rather hit-and-miss affair, with some inch-perfect, raking diagonals interspersed with the odd misplaced pass, against a backdrop of slightly tubby huff and puff.

As for Daws, ‘twas his pros and cons all neatly packaged into one handy ninety-minute demo. A towering, heart-and-soul header for our goal, followed by leaden-footed sluggishiness as the opposing striker disappeared into the distance and equalised, the unfortunate truth was that it justified AVB’s decision to shunt him well down the queue of Premiership starters. In this era of indecently young mangers, high defensive lines and manic work-rates, it is easy to see why Messrs Hudd and Daws are putting in some mighty serious thumb-twiddling time on the fringes.

Spurs 2-0 Villa

Merrily woken from their slumbers by last Sunday, this was still not quite the vintage Hotspur. Once the two-goal lead was established it all became simple enough, and by the time Villa were reduced to ten it was  but a merry little training ground exercise (which, the pedants amongst us grumbled, ought to have seen our goal difference upped) but for the best part of an hour there was a conspicuous lack of fluency.

The wisdom of Dempsey/Gylfi playing off the front-man remains debatable, particularly at the Lane against teams we expect to dominate, but if we can ease our way to victory while not at the peak of our powers then this ‘crisis’ remains most welcome.

At the other end poor old Friedel can feel a mite piqued at his omission (although he may want to use the spare time to work on gathering crosses) but there is no particular grumble in this quarter over the use of Lloris. Solid enough from le Frenchman – indeed, a first clean-sheet of the league season – but it will probably require the best part of a season before we can judge the chap. No idea why ‘keepers these days punch everything though, what the devil has happened to the good old-fashioned art of just catching the bally thing?

So as we drum our fingers, teach ourselves new skills (darning, at AANP Towers, since you ask – and very handy it’s proving too) and wait for the international to-and-fro to wind down it’s four Premiership wins in a row, and a Europa campaign that has been a little unnecessarily complicated. And who amongst us would not have settled for such fare when the troops were jeered off against Norwich a few weeks back?

(Frightfully sorry about the invisible comments section by the way – the world’s most over-zealous spam-catcher has taken to the black arts to prevent anyone from posting below. Fret not, the village plumber has been summoned. Should be fixed in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.)

Aston Villa 1-1 Spurs: Shooting Boots, & The Walking Calamity That is Danny Rose

Opportunity lost, as I’m sure all my fellow geniuses have also noticed. Should make for a frightfully exciting final-day finale though, what? As it happens our lot gave a dashed competent showing at Villa, so no particular complaints there. Plenty of intent, flair, movement and opportunity amongst our heroes, with the Lennon-right-and-Bale-left gambit loosely (though not rigidly) employed, creating a pleasing balance, while VDV and Modders crafted their usual array of intelligent triangles, and Sandro had another of his magnificent Chuck Norris days. In recent weeks some of our performances have hardly deserved a point, but this one merited three.

From this particularly hungover armchair spectator, the principal criticism de jour was that sometimes those chaps in lilywhite seem dreadfully reluctant to shoot. For a man who just a few days ago scored a goal sprinkled with celestial dreaminess, Modders seemed bizarrely opposed to the notion of repeating the feat, despite receiving the ball in a few highly agreeable patches of greenery just a few inches outside the edge of the Villa area. “By jove, have a crack my good man,” was the sentiment no doubt doing the rounds across the lilywhite spectrum, but mildly infuriatingly the little man seemed absolutely determined to jab the orb sideways to a chum. rather than blast a small hole in the top corner. VDV showed a greater proclivity for a vicious swing of the boot, but those two in particular could take a leaf out of the Bible According to Young Kyle Walker and thwack the ruddy thing as soon as the opportunity sidles into view. The goal scored by Villa in the first half perhaps gave an indication of quite how fruitful such an approach can prove, if repeated with some gusto.

And while I’m grumbling, when the devil will our lot score from a corner? Modders’ goal at Bolton was very much the exception, I think our first from a corner in well over 100 attempts, and there were almost 20 more in vain on Sunday. Part of the problem appears to be that with Adebayor typically peeling off to the back post we rarely have anyone patrolling the six-yard box with shooting boots primed when VDV swings them in. Within all of this I feel almost obliged to mention the name Defoe, and let others do with it what they will. But I’m sure ‘Arry is well aware of this, which is a relief.

The Latest Instalment in the Danny Rose Catalogue of Outstandingness

Playing with Danny Rose in our number is not exactly a million miles away from playing with ten men anyway, and having narrowly escaped a red card as soon as he appeared on the pitch, for that most unsightly, wonky red Mohawk, I’m not sure his repeated protestations (“He pushed me”) really exonerated him from a merited red card. Sans Rose our lot did just as good a job at sniffing out a goal, our ten men swarming all over Villa non-stop for the final half hour. Frankly few at AANP Towers would don sackcloth, ashes, black armbands and the like should those flailing Rose limbs never again be seen in lilywhite, for the boy is just not good enough.

A darned shame, these dropped points, given the opportunity so comically thrown our way by l’Arse a day earlier, but one final opportunity remains. Play this way against Fulham next week and our lot ought to prevail; the rest is in the lap of the gods.

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